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I am A Humanist. Perhaps Atheist. That being said, my dilemma is this: I have been invited to an ordination ceremony for a lifetime friend who is becoming an Anglican priest.
We are both 59 years old and have been friends since high school. Never dated (he is still married to his high school sweetheart). He moved away after college and we have kept in touch over the years.
I would like to attend the ceremony as I am genuinely happy for him and would like to write a note of congratulations as well as give him a congratulatory gift.
Number one, is this appropriate and number two, what to write? What to give? What to even say?
He is unaware of my non-beliefs. Thank you for any insight/suggestions you may have!
-Heathen (but not insensitive!)
Dear Truth Seeker:
I changed your name because of the largely derogatory nature of the word “heathen,” the definition of which includes not just those who are not Christian, Jewish or Muslim, but also characterizes heathens as uncultured, barbaric and uncivilized.
Clearly you don’t meet that description because you are cultured and civilized enough to question the most appropriate and thoughtful gift for your friend and you are wise enough to entrust your query to me. Thank you for worshipping at the altar of askdescamp; please deposit $20.00 in the collection plate.
By the way, you are not alone. Many Anglican Priests don’t even believe in God. Check this out: Atheist Priests.
Let’s address the gift issue first.
Priests enjoy and sometimes need presents just like the rest of us, especially since upon ordination there are many items needed to do your job properly and let’s face it: they aren’t exactly raking in the advice blogger bucks (you will notice today’s column is brief, as I need to drive my dump truck of money earned in this endeavor to the bank).
Here are just a few ideas:
1. A great gift for an ordinand is a stole, because they are pretty and pretty expensive! Your friend will need an entire set to match each color of the church’s seasons: green, purple, white, and red. Blue is used in some areas so check with your buddy or just play it safe with the other colors.
These are really beautiful, aren’t they? I may have to get some of these and start making an offensive fashion statement.
Before you make this investment ask his wife if he has any yet so you don’t get him a color he may already have. The Dress Your Priest for Less stores do not have the same liberal return policy as Nordstrom, despite the Christian obsession with returns.
(If he is expecting a welcome home party, I am not ready. If he just wants to drop by for a chalice of wine, I can make that happen.)
2. A high-quality Book of Common Prayer is nice, just be sure it is in the form regularly used in his part of the world.
3. A small piece of jewelry such as a pendant, brooch or lapel pin in the shape of Christ’s last hang out spot is great so long as you are confident you know his style well enough to chose such a personal gift. Consider shopping with his wife for her feedback.
4. A gift certificate to Church Supply Warehouse or other religious stores where he can buy clergy shirts, devotional items and the like would certainly be appreciated.
If due to your atheist leanings you’d prefer not to give an overtly religious present I suggest anything that your personal knowledge of this man indicates he’d like to receive, such as gift certificates to stores and restaurants, music, tickets to concerts and sporting events, etc.
Don’t make this more complicated than it is just because the event being celebrated is one you can’t personally relate to.
As for the ordination ceremony, I see no reason at all why you should not attend. I have been to many a Catholic wedding and I don’t think anyone would say I shouldn’t be there just because I think organized religion is a concept constructed by the wealthy and powerful to control the sheep.
Finally, what to write in the card:
Come on, you got this. You have known this man for decades. A simple expression of affection and admiration for his accomplishment will suffice, along with some thoughts on the remarkable feat of making such an enormous change later in life.
I would close with this beautiful poem by suspected atheist and confirmed transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty,
To find the best in others,
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
A garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.